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Getting Children to Behave 2005-03-24

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Science.

Trying to tame a ‘toddler’ in the midst of a ‘tantrum’ can seem an impossible task. Take a meal-time ‘strop’, or an over-tired child determined not to go to bed — the ‘battles’ are ‘never ending’. But when Ms.Jo Frost stormed onto our TV screens last summer as ‘Supernanny’, she brought hope to parents nationwide that these battles can be won. After 15 years’ experience, the 34-year-old has perfected her firm-but-fair approach to child-rearing and claims to be able to bring harmony to any household, no matter how disruptive. According to Ms.Frost, there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ child; they merely live up to the expectations that parents set. Here, she outlines her top-ten tips on how to get the best from your children.

  • 1 Praise and Rewards:

While Ms.Frost has gained a reputation as a somewhat strict and severe character, she believes the most important thing you can do for a child is to praise them.

‘Praise and discipline should be given out in equal measure.

‘Just as you discipline a child to teach them the consequences of bad behaviour, they must be given love and affection when they behave well.

‘Such praise should come immediately afterwards so they can connect the two.

‘Praise shouldn’t be given out just because they do what you ask of them’, she says.

‘Look out for tasks they undertake on their own for displays of generosity or kindness.’

Ms.Frost also advises giving out a small reward to act as another motivating force, but warns against using food as an incentive.

‘A reward doesn’t necessarily need to be sweets’, she says.

‘A lot of people can give rewards through food thus establishing a link between emotion and food.

‘This can store up trouble for later on.’

  • 2 Consistency:

Ms.Frost says that it is crucial for parents to present a united front.

‘It is important that mums and dads are consistent and read from the same page, so there is no room for a child to play one off the other’, she says.

‘There is a tendency to discipline and create rules on an ad-hoc basis, but parents have to make the time to sit down and go through some ground rules.’

  • 3 Routine:

Ms.Frost is a ‘stickler’ for the schedule she pins firmly to the ‘fridge. Ms.Frost expands on this in her book, suggesting you should design a timetable that allows you to juggle everyone’s needs — you’re own as well as those of your child. She identifies mealtimes and bedtime as the cornerstones of this schedule, and as ‘Draconian’ as this might appear, it does seem to work;

‘Routine builds consistency into family life and provides the secure and stable framework in which a child likes to operate.

‘Small children function best when things are the same every day’, she says.

‘It ensures that they are put to bed when they are tired which sets them up for the rest of the day.

‘Children have their own “body clocks”, so a routine should be based on the individual, but, generally, I think it is important to do educational activities in the morning when they are alert and do a physical activity in the afternoon.

‘Then at night, it is good to give them a bath, and to have some quiet time to relax them before they go to bed.’

  • 4 Boundaries:

‘You need to set rules and boundaries so children know the parameters of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour’, she says.

‘These boundaries can, in turn, be re-inforced with discipline to instill some self-control in them from a young age as they learn what lines not to cross.’

She does not, however, subscribe to the old adage that children should be seen and not heard.

‘They are striving for independence and should not be suffocated or repressed in any way.

‘Kids should be opinionated and need to be heard’, she says.

Whilst part of this quest for independence is to push the boundaries you set, you must not break them, but instead offer them choices so they have a say in their day.

‘You must give them choices otherwise you will control them’, she says.

‘Take dinner time, for example: you may stipulate mealtime boundaries and expect certain behaviour such as sitting at the table and conducting certain etiquette — but, at the same time, you could get them involved in the meal you cook that evening — or allow them to choose what they would like to eat as they get older.’

  • 5 Discipline:

Once you have agreed on a set of rules and boundaries, you then have to stick to your guns and enforce them.

‘It is important to be firm-but-fair’, she says.

‘Parents are scared to properly discipline their kids; they feel an enormous amount of guilt for punishing a child, and the fear they will lose their children when, in fact, the opposite is true.’

Ms.Frost does not condone smacking — and stresses there is a vast array of other disciplinary methods at your disposal.

This is when her signature ‘naughty step’ technique comes into play: designate a stair, or a corner of the room, that is removed from the action of the household. If they are misbehaving, and have ignored the warnings, then leave them there to reflect on their actions.

‘The naughty step is a very simple principle’, she says.

‘It makes children realise that their actions have consequences.

‘It gives them time to reflect on this and then the chance to apologise and resolve the issue afterwards.

‘It also gives parents the chance to calm down;

‘Instead of “losing your rag”, just walk away — the technique will work quite adequately on its own.’

  • 6 Warnings:

A wagging finger and her catchphrase — ‘Your behaviour is very naughty’ — is all it takes for Ms.Frost to stop troublesome ‘tots’ in their tracks. However, some parents need a bit of help to perfect Ms.Frost’s voice of authority. The key, explains Ms.Frost, is that it is not what you say but how you say it.

‘Speak to them at eye level in a low, serious tone.

‘This communicates the fact that you are displeased at their behaviour and reinforces the fact that you are in charge.

‘It is in this voice that you should explain what they have done wrong.

‘Sometimes that it is all that is required.’

The ‘speaking-clock’ voice is also essential if your routine is going to work. These clear, calm and repetitive warnings give a child a constant update on how the day takes shape.

‘Use an “everyday voice” which reminds children of their routine and lets them know what is coming next’, she says.

‘The “speaking clock” is to let a child know what is coming next because it gives them time to finish up what they are doing and to move on to the next thing.

‘Without adequate warnings there are a series of sudden cut-off points in a child’s day which can cause frustration.’

  • 7 Explanations:

Explanations are just as crucial in the disciplinary process as the ‘warnings’ stage and the ‘naughty step principle’. Be prepared to talk to your child about what they did wrong, and why they must not conduct themselves that way.

‘Explanations go hand-in-hand with discipline because a child has to understand why they have been punished’, she says.

‘In this way they can learn from the process.’

  • 8 Restraint:

Even faced with the most ‘brattish’ behaviour, Ms.Frost’s steely resolve does not falter; her suit remains unruffled and her manicured hands are never used to tear out her hair. As unachievable as it may seem, she is adamant that parents must remain as calm and collected as her.

You are the adult and must remain in control’, she says firmly.

‘If you are faced with a three-year-old who is having a temper ‘tantrum’, your child has “lost control” and you cannot respond by doing the same.

‘If you panic and shout you will frighten the child.

‘You can use different voices but shouting is not necessary;

‘You are their rock and you cannot “crumble” in front of them or “break down”.

‘You cannot lose control otherwise the impact on the family is not a “pretty one”.’

  • 9 Responsibility:

‘Allow them to do small achievable things to learn the necessary life skills and social skills for them to develop.’This is all part of the growing-up process.

‘Let them take part in dressing themselves in the morning, or, if you have got another baby on the way, make them feel a part of it.’

Part of this role-playing is another tried and tested method — what Ms.Frost calls the Involvement Technique.

Ms.Frost suggests enlisting their help by letting them wash a few potatoes as you prepare dinner or giving them a sponge to help with washing the car.

‘Having small tasks to do gives them a role to play and makes them feel good about themselves’, she says.

  • 10 Relaxation:

‘This is simple’, says Ms.Frost.

‘If we do not relax and take a break to spend time with our partner or take time out for ourselves then nobody wins.

‘Playing “martyr” will “catch up with you” and “bite you on the bottom”.’

Enjoy some ‘me’ time with a solo shopping trip one afternoon or go out for a romantic meal for two.

Ms.Frost insists that asking a baby-sitter, friend or relative to look after your little angel for a few hours is crucial for your family’s well-being in the longer term.

The book: ‘Supernanny: how to get the best from your children’, by Ms.Jo Frost is available now. The new series of Supernanny begins on Channel Four TV at 21:00 on 2005-04-05.



1. Frank Verlardi - 2009-05-14

hmmm, never lose control, stay calm, even toned? I have to ask, why not respond to the child with a real life reaction? I feel staying calm in the face of a childs talking back or being unreasonable can even fuel the fire more, this child is looking for a brick wall and you are giving it mush, nothing solid to push against, saying or showing “I’m angry” is a normal reaction that this child should learn in life. It’s “appropriate” to get angry at times and not natural to be a constant calm quiet picture of bliss when the circumstances require a different tone or volume or or other appropriate reaction to the childs action. I’m not a child phycholigist but I favor appropriate reactions when raising a child, teaching by example rather than by what I would call a taunting calmness that can backfire by frustrating the child that is looking for structure and getting mush. Frank Verlardi

Alan - 2009-05-14

Does it not depend on the child? They ARE people, just small.

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